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tv   Spotlight  BBC News  December 23, 2021 4:30pm-5:01pm GMT

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scientists cautiously welcome studies suggesting that the highly—contagious omicron covid variant is milder than previous versions. in the uk, the health secretary sajid javid has warned that the sheer number of infections could still lead to hospitals being overwhelmed. his warning comes as several european countries. are re—introducing tighter restrictions against coronavirus. president putin has again insisted that the west must give russia guarantees that nato won't expand eastwards to admit ukraine. in his annual end—of—year press conference, he also said he'd initiated high—level talks with the us. a well—known statue, commemorating the deaths of protesters in beijing's tiananmen square, has been removed from a university campus in hong kong. it was one of the few remaining public memorials in the semi—autonomous region. now on bbc news,
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at a key point in the pandemic, the government signed a £107 million deal to buy ppe from a northern ireland sweet company. lyndsey telford investigates what happened next. it might not look like much, but last year, this box was worth an awful lot of money. during the global scramble for ppe in the early stages of the pandemic, the cost of protective gear shot up astronomically. this box is part of a ppe deal worth over £100 million. this involved a northern irish sweet company. people were dying. it was almostjust buy as much as you can. it may not be worth its weight in gold any more, but today this box gives us a window into the pandemonium that surrounded ppe purchasing last year, because it arrived in the uk at such great expense, health officials could not even agree what these items were or how they could be used in hospitals.
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government thought it was buying a rolls—royce but it was getting a ford fiesta. perhaps that is why a box from the very same shipment, a box that cost the taxpayer £1,000, ended up being flogged less than one year later for just £5. you are probably sick about hearing about the new normal. that is the phrase we use when we talk about life in the pandemic. after lockdowns and with the help of the vaccine, covid has become something we try to live with, minimising the risk it poses as best we can.
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and ppe, like this mask, is a big part of that. masks have become so commonplace that it is easy to forget how the shortage of ppe early in the pandemic caused panic. personal protective equipment for health and care workers is in great demand around the world. the government has been under fire over shortages of ppe. parts of the nhs are still expensive problems getting hold of ppe. - the market went mad. peter smith is an expert in procurement and he watched on as sourcing ppe became the focus. suddenly we saw the demand going up, doubling, trebling, five or ten fold and if you suddenly increase demand tenfold, a couple of things happen. first of all, there will be shortages because of those prices and they will go up. suddenly there is not enough ppe and it was clearly a very challenging and difficult environment.
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the shortage had stark consequences on the front line as we reported last year. when the levels of ppe were running low in some surgeries and some colleagues were working without available masks. aprons made from bean bags, plastic bags on heads. - what was needed most urgently of all were gowns. the government did have some ppe items but it had been preparing for the wrong kind of pandemic. it had stockpiled aprons, useful for a flu outbreak, but what health care workers needed to battle covid were gowns. although they look similar, there are key differences. aprons are worn as a sacrificial layer over other ppe and are more open at the back. gowns are closer fitting and are intended to cover more of the body and despite a warning
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from a scientific advisory group injune, 2019, the government had no gowns whatsoever in its stockpile. so acute was the ppe shortage that the government issued a call to arms. if you have got production facilities and you can meet our published technical specifications, we want to hear from you. 16,000 potential suppliers offered to step up and this company in bradford was one of them. we were hearing that we were at war against a virus and when it is a war effort, as a company you step up to do whatever it is you can and that would be our war effort. companies that made window blinds were now making face shields. gin distilleries were making hand sanitiser. they could not just use their current suppliers, they did not have time to run that full competitive open process - and people were dying.
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it was almost i believe a situation, just buy as much as you can. - even those with no scope to manufacture themselves, were offering to use their contacts to find people who could. and that's when northern ireland's clandeboye agencies ltd stepped up. it's not the kind of business you'd expect to be supplying ppe to the nhs. why? because it's a confectionery company. its products include yogurt coated peanuts, gummy sweets and slushy machines. more pick n�* mix than ppe. why would a sweet company be considered? why, though, would a small sweet company be considered
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as a supplier of ppe? the fact is these were unprecedented times and the authorities had to move fast — clandeboye agencies said it could help. the company told the government it was the uk distributor for a cambodian manufacturer of ppe. most importantly, it was offering to provide the nhs with one of its most sought after items — gowns. in wales, the situation was particularly dire. some hospitals have adequate quantities of ppe but others are just down to a few days�* worth of supplies. clandeboye agencies offered to supply some. within just a week of making contact, welsh officials had agreed an £8a0,000 contract with the sweet company. you will recall that last week i indicated that fluid resistant gowns were a particular worry area for us where we had less than a full week's supply left.
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i can confirm we are expecting a flight to land at cardiff airport this afternoon carrying 200,000 fluid—resistant gowns. the sweet company had ridden to the rescue. its gowns were rolled out to hospitals across wales — with some being rushed to intensive care units for immediate use. in england, a shortage of gowns had become so critical that northern ireland sent 250,000 of its own to protect front line workers. officials at the department of health and social care, or the dhsc, in whitehall, were working flat out to plug the ppe gap — and so, they too looked to the sweet company. the very next day, after the arrival of the gowns in wales, the department of health and social care agreed its own contract with clandeboye agencies.
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but this was a much larger and more valuable arrangement than the welsh one — millions of gowns for millions of pounds. over the next few weeks, the dhsc inflated the order — £14 million, £19 million, then £93 million — finally finishing with quite a deal for a small confectionery company — contracts worth £107.5 million. these are eye—watering sums but it's important to remember how unprecedented the circumstances were. at this point in the pandemic, gowns were still desperately needed and still in short supply. so the government had to move at breakneck speed to secure them there was no time to spare. and then everything stopped.
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after the rush and speedy delivery, the gowns were held in nhs storage. it was here at this warehouse in daventry near northampton that those gowns from clandeboye agencies ended up. you would expect them to have been shipped in and then straight out the door again — because this was an emergency, and these gowns were so urgently needed. but they just sat here. month after month after month. this warehouse was at the heart of the government's pandemic response. while in wales, the gowns were immediately sent to hospitals, in england, ppe bought from a new supplier was immediately quarantined here so samples from each batch could be tested to ensure quality and safety. it was after the gowns came here that someone first realised that there may be a problem with the gowns. and documents we've obtained
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from the uk's ppe regulator, the health and safety executive, tell the story. two months after the first delivery arrived at the health and safety executive raised concerns. it flagged that while the consignments were labelled as fluid repellent, the items did not meet the requirements to be used as such. according to the hsc these were not gowns, these were long—sleeved aprons. what followed was a summer of uncertainty. in the documents we've obtained, the department of health and social care spent weeks going back and forth with the hse, trying to figure out what they should tell the nhs about the clandeboye agencies items — whether they should just give them to dentists and not hospitals, if they could be used for single procedures, or even if they could be called ppe.
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as this went on, the discussion went wider. it turns out there are more of these items — known as a thumb loop gown or thumb loop apron — supplied by other companies. we showed one to ppe sales director rizwana hussain. well, i can tell from looking at this product, i've seen this product. it's a very common product and you know, it's commonly referred to as a gown, but that's like a lay definition of it. if you are talking about medical definition of it, you wouldn't be able to call this a gown because it doesn't match the standards and the requirements. at one point, the items were earmarked for scotland — but they were withdrawn by dhsc before they were shipped. months later, government guidance on ppe showed that items like those purchased from clandeboye agencies and others were suitable for use only as disposable aprons.
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it was now clear that the items the government had paid over £100 million for weren't the actual gowns the nhs had needed after all. government thought it was buying, arm, a rolls royce, erm, but it was getting a ford fiesta. jolyon maugham, a london—based lawyer and founder of a legal campaign group, has taken the government to court over this and other covid contracts. we can't know whether civil servants in a tearing hurry, erm, ordered the wrong thing what we can know is the thing supplied for £108 million of public money was not a thing that was the right thing for the covid pandemic. if you don't get the specification right, then the rest of the procurement process doesn't, doesn't matter. you've wasted, you've wasted the money, and it's hard
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to understand how something is as basic as that could happen. and it's not as if even the specification for a gown or an apron is incredibly complicated. i mean, there's probably more to it than the people might think, but it's not like you're buying a nuclear submarine. the department of health in london said proper due diligence is carried out on all government contracts and it takes the checks extremely seriously. it said it had worked tirelessly to source life—saving ppe to protect front line staff. as far as clandeboye agencies is concerned, it fulfilled its contracts. it said it was contracted to supply pe or polyethylene gowns and this is what was supplied. the company also said it had "extensive experience of sourcing goods abroad" and found a source
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of supply for items that were "urgently needed. " but what is a gown to one person isn't a gown to another. when the items were inspected they were found not to meet the requirements for use as a fluid resistant gown in the nhs. labour's angela rayner has been critical of the government's procurement practices in general. we informed her of ourfindings. well, it's a devastating indictment of what the government were up to and unfortunately it's notjust one off occurrence, we've seen that billions of pounds have been wasted on contracts that were not fulfilled and also that the ppe couldn't be used. as well as criticising what she sees as waste, angela rayner has attacked the government for setting up a system that prioritised some
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companies over others — the so—called vip channel. according to a cabinet office report, companies could get in the fast lane if they were referred by a reliable source — like a government minister, a senior official, or an mp. angela rayner says the system was a bad one because it was based on who referred a company rather than its track record. it's disgusting that at a time of a global pandemic when we should have been scrutinising more, and the national audit office have said we should be scrutinising what contracts we get, the government were actually creating a vip fast track lane. many companies who had huge amounts of experience who could have delivered on those contracts didn't even get a look in. rizwana hussain�*s company wasn't referred and didn't win any contracts.
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she says she felt frozen out. finding out that the government had a vip lane and the people who knew nothing about this industry were getting given ludicrous sized contracts was very disappointing for us. it's just not a level playing field then, is it? it's just not fair. the dhsc in england has said clandeboye agencies was not in the formal high priority lane, or hpl. but it concedes the company was prioritised because of how many gowns it was offering. and there's evidence that its offer had some vip names linked to it. the draft cabinet office report says clandeboye was supported by an nhs director in wales. and its local mp, dup south antrim representative paul girvan, was copied in to emails between clandeboye and
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government officials. mr girvan told us the company approached him and he directed it to the civil service. that seems to be the limit of his involvement as he said he did not endorse its application and did not even know it had secured a contract. clandeboye agencies told us it did not have a prior relationship with paul girvan and did not rely on political connections to obtain the contracts. in spite of the ongoing court proceedings about these aprons, what ultimately became of them is still a mystery. we don't have anything more than is in the public domain. so we've asked government an awful lot of questions about where the gowns ended up. and government has basically refused to tell us. and that's pretty alarming.
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but the short answer is no, we still don't know. we know there was confusion about how the aprons the government ended up with could be used. so much so that they sat in a warehouse for months — not being used as anything. but after mid—august, we have no idea what became of those very expensive aprons. we use the nhs id code to find this site — an internal nhs platform run on ebay. we find some of these clandeboye agencies items — the boxes actually still have the contract information on the side. and we can see that they're selling fast — and to registered nhs users. but not to hospitals. these are going to less high risk environments —
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like care homes and rehabilitation facilities. and then, a new lead. we have been looking for this ppe for months now. ever since we have found out that there was some sort of issue with it. we have been trying to find out what may have happened to it. where it may have ended up. and we have had a bit of breakthrough. our search brings us here — to an auction house in stockport. we arrive late in the evening. the gates are locked and there's no one to speak to. we have no idea how any of the clandeboye agencies�* shipment ended up here. what we do know is that one auction goer got a real bargain. because they managed to buy a box of kit, that cost the government £1,000 for just a fiver. i mean, it's pretty sickening, isn't it? that £1,000, which will be just one
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example of many other thousands of pounds, millions, hundreds of millions, probably billions of pounds, is money that your viewers would have worked very hard to earn and paid away to the government in taxes. and it's been wasted. although we've found the seller, the box itself is long gone, sold in march to someone with an eye for a bargain. but we're getting closer. a few days later, a chance find online. a different box of clandeboye agencies�* gowns, complete with the same contract information and product code. this is it. this is one of the actual boxes the government paid £1,000 for. we paid less than a tenth of that — just under £100. public money appears to have been
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wasted because of confusion over what to order and the health service didn't get the actual ppe it most needed. clandeboye insists it delivered what was ordered and that no concerns have been raised about the gowns it supplied. the company wouldn't tell us how much profit it made on the contracts. the health and safety executive wouldn't respond to our specific questions about the items provided by clandeboye agencies. the health and safety executive
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wouldn't respond to our specific questions about the items provided by clandeboye agencies. but it did tell us that "it was as a result of our checks that we caught a lot of ppe that wasn't safe and wouldn't have protected people. it says the pandemic necessitated a degree of pragmatism, "but our clear principle throughout was that protective equipment actually protects people. but the bottom line is that the government paid millions and millions of pounds to a sweet company for ppe that it couldn't use as intended. in this key phase of the pandemic during the first wave, the vital business of securing ppe needed for the nhs, was marked by confusion and delay. these contracts, and these aprons, clearly raise concerns for the public purse. but in wales, the concerns could be even more serious. remember that initial contract between clandeboye agencies and nhs wales — which saw the company provide 200,000 gowns when wales was almost out of ppe?
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those were the same as the items delivered to the dhsc. the items which the hse said should not be used as fluid repellent gowns by health care workers on the frontline. well, they were distributed to health boards and trusts across wales, where according to our f0|s, they were used as fluid repellent gowns — and in intensive care units by health care workers treating patients with covid. nhs wales said: the fluid repellent gowns supplied by clandeboye agencies were issued to health boards and trusts for use in those settings prescribed by infection prevention and control guidance at the time. but angela rayner remains concerned. it's devastating for health care workers on the front line — they have got us through the most difficult times of the pandemic, put their own lives at risk. i was a care worker myself
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and i know how devastating you feel if you even went in with a cough and cold and you thought that you gave it to someone. so i know care workers were very diligent in wanting to keep people safe. not only that they now had dodgy ppe, that left workers without the protective equipment that they deserved and needed, which again, could have put lives at risk. well, that's pretty alarming, isn't it? i mean, we wear ppe because we want it to protect us from getting covid. of course, if you're a doctor or a nurse, on the front line, you're at particular risk if you're dealing with covid patients. and what you're telling me suggests to me that they weren't getting proper ppe. they weren't getting stuff that was, erm, able to protect them from covid, they thought they were, but they weren't. last year, we were told to stay at home to protect the nhs and front—line workers.
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but government had its part to play. our investigation raises serious questions about how it performed in that frenzied rush to provide ppe. questions about how public money was spent, and about the risk to those who were putting their lives on the line. good afternoon. wow, what a difference a day makes. we started off today mild, but quite murky out there, with outbreaks of rain. now, these weather fronts were pushing their way steadily northwards through the night. behind it introduced this milder air with this southerly flow, and that mild air is going to gradually displace the cold air across much of england and wales. the exception, it will always
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sit across the far north of scotland. and that means there is a potential as we go through the day—to—day of seeing a little bit of snow, as you can see on the tops of the mountains. behind it, we will see some heavier rain later today come into northern ireland, north—west england and the scottish borders. to the south of that, we keep quite a lot of cloud, may be thick enough sunlight, drizzly rain in places. but it will stay mild, ten to 12 degrees the hive. further north, we keep that colder air, so temperatures sitting around five to seven celsius. now, moving out of thursday towards christmas eve, is that weather front continues to push its way steadily north, bumping into the cold air, we could see some significant snow to higher ground above 200 metres in the highlands before it peters out through the night. furthersouth, it's going before it peters out through the night. further south, it's going to be a misty and foggy start, a milder start, but that's certainly worth bearing in mind if you are out and travelling to see friends and family first thing on christmas eve. so the folk will gradually lift into local cloud, the rain easing into scotland, but by the same time down
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to the south—west come into northern ireland, wales and south—west england, we are going to see some wetter and increasingly windier weather starting to develop by the end of christmas eve afternoon. mild to the south, greatest chance of seeing some brightness, some sunshine, but cool into the far north—east of scotland. as we move out of christmas eve and christmas day, is this where the front continues to push its way steadily northwards, once again we've still got that colder air sitting across the far north of scotland, so the leading edge they could be a bit of a wintry mix of rain, sleet and snow on christmas day. that will ease away. it will be a pretty nondescript christmas day for most of us, a lot of cloud around yet again, some rain into the northern islands, wales, south—west england, but here it stays on outside, further north and east we keep that cool air. that rain has got to sweep its way steadily northwards, so it will be hanging around for some of us for boxing day, but again, still relatively mild.
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this is bbc news. these are the latest headlines in the uk and around the world. the uk tops 100,000 daily covid cases for the second consecutive day — a record high. scientists cautiously welcome studies suggesting the 0micron variant is milder than delta. but the uk health secretary warns the number of infections could still lead to hospitals being overwhelmed. we do know with 0micron that it does spread a lot more quickly, it's more infectious than delta, so any advantage gained from reduced risk of hospitalisation needs to be set against that. tighter restrictions across europe — spain is reintroducing mandatory mask—wear outdoors and belgium is to close theatres
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and entertainment venues. new south wales proposes to charge unvaccinated people

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